We must not be copyists or merely servile imitators; from the fullness of our knowledge, we must seek to produce what is new, and what is accordant with the spirit of the times; but what we produce must reveal our knowledge of the ornament of past ages.

Christopher Dresser

The First Industrial Designer

Christopher Dresser is often considered the first industrial designer – someone who regarded the Industrial Revolution not as a threat to the handicraft tradition, but as an opportunity to bring finely decorated and affordable objects into people's homes. Dresser was one of the first European designers to visit Japan upon its opening to the world in 1854 and a subsequent trip in 1876 brought about a fervor of design output inspired by the forms and aesthetics of Japanese textiles, cloisonné, ceramics and paintings, including the works he made for Minton, where he worked from the 1860s to the 1880s.

Christopher Dresser. Image: Linnean Society, London; Plate design, Minton, possibly by Dresser, 1870. Image: The National Archives, Surrey, UK (no. 244961.)

Beginning in the 1840s, Dresser had worked for many companies around the world, at least thirty, designing textiles, wallpaper, tableware, and ceramics (also making him one of the first truly industrial designers, freelancing for a variety of firms). It is noted in Shock of the Old: Christopher Dresser's Design Revolution that much of his output up until the 1880s has been difficult to definitively link to Dresser, as it was not his expressed aim to singularly claim designs and his influence at these firms was fluid; while at Minton, he designed specific works, contributed motifs, as well as served as an art director, leading others in fulfilling his aesthetic vision. While other Western firms of the era had used the japonisme style to charming effect, Dresser elevated it, inventing striking forms that blended East and West and, using his studies of botany, created motifs that went beyond simply ornament. The works he developed while at Minton would be influential to designers for decades to come.

The Mark Isaacson
and Greg Nacozy Collection

The Collection of Mark Isaacson and Greg Nacozy includes over two-hundred works from one of the most significant figures in mid-century collecting. Mark established the influential Fifty/50 gallery in New York in 1981 (later partnering with Mark McDonald and Ralph Cutler in 1983), which shaped the tastes and collecting habits of many and brought furniture, decorative arts and jewelry from the 1930s, 40s and 50s to the forefront of the market at a time when they were largely overlooked.

Greg Nacozy and Mark Isaacson in Venice, c. 1985 

Fifty/50’s and Mark’s legacy is most closely associated with bringing Italian art glass to the United States (Mark even advised the MET on their Italian glass collection) and raising the profile of mid-century furniture and American studio jewelry and ceramics; iconic examples of each are represented in this auction, including an early Rudder Stool by Isamu Noguchi, Charlotte Perriand’s and Pierre Jeanneret’s Bahut No. 2, a Gerrit Rietveld Zig-Zag chair, pottery by Edwin and Mary Scheier and Fausto Melotti, and Venini glassworks.

The most exciting aspects of this auction are the more intimate ones—the works from Mark's and Greg's personal collection that speak to Mark's eclectic taste, his boundless curiosity and sensitivity toward objects and art, and how generous he was in sharing his interests with others and letting them share with him. Standouts include several works by Robert Mapplethorpe—who was close friends with Mark, photographed several Fifty/50 catalogs and got many of the ceramics in his photographs from the gallery—the ecstatic wood construction Wild Plant by Leo Amino, a painting by Ralston Crawford of a spectacularly minimalist skyscraper façade, and photographic works by Man Ray, Edward Weston, Lynn Davis and Dorothea Lange.

Mark with Ed and Mary Scheier; Robert Mapplethorpe and Mark

This auction also features many works that tie together the thread of Mark’s collecting practices, going beyond the downtown New York sensibilities of the 1980s and showing the scope of eras and cultures that interested him; the sgraffito incisions on a 1940s Scheier vase echo the geometric features of a Senufo Kpeliye'e mask, the entrancing and complex shadows of a grain elevator in a photograph by Ralston Crawford contrast with the severe plainness of a New York City step-back building captured by Walker Evans, and the radical gestures of gay image making are seen in the works of George Platt Lynes, Paul Cadmus and Robert Loughlin. One of the artists in this sale, George Dureau, a photographer from New Orleans (where Greg is also from) who greatly influenced Mapplethorpe early in his career, perhaps best captures the spirit of this collection, saying about his own work:

“I live a warm, involved, humanist sort of life. There are lots of people passing through it. I have exciting experiences and learn things about people. They always go into my art. I cannot have an experience and it not go into my art.”
Mark and a friend at Brimfield; Mark's and Greg's apartment; Mark and Greg at The Armory Show

Fifty/50 gallery reshaped the collecting market during its twelve-year existence, closing in 1993 after Mark passed away from AIDS; his partner Greg has cared for the collection since.  The Collection of Mark Isaacson and Greg Nacozy offers an opportunity to see a short but impactful life lived through an enthusiasm for art and design, one that inspired many to see and appreciate objects and live with them as fully as Mark did.